Congratulations, Mama! You did it; you brought a beautiful baby into this world. Now, I know having a baby can be overwhelming in many ways, but something that tends to come up for us Mamas is how to feel more like ourselves, how to get some strength back. I get messages a lot from people saying, “I’m not clear for exercise yet, but is there anything I can be doing after having baby?” My short answer is absolutely yes.
Recovery after having a baby is so important. Our bodies need lots of love and time to heal, and you should by all means, listen to your body’s cues. If something doesn’t feel right, get in touch with a medical professional right away. And no, you should NOT be exercising without the “all clear” from your doctor, but there is a simple way to bring back awareness, sensation, and muscular control into the pelvic floor and abdominals. Here it comes:
Okay, so you need to breathe in a specific way for the benefit of strength. Take a few minutes a couple times per day to breathe intentionally as follows: Upon inhalation let your belly and pelvic floor be soft or relaxed. No need to “push out” your stomach or try and force anything. As you exhale, lift/engage/squeeze your pelvic floor and think of contracting your abdominals from all directions to squeeze at your belly button. For example, you should feel your sides coming in, your belly button moving toward your back, your back moving toward your belly button and the rib cage moving downward into the body. Remember on the inhalation to relax. This should feel like work! Your muscles will probably be tired and shaky by the end of a long exhalation. Breath work like this helps bring sensation back to the muscles of the abdomen—don’t be scared if you don’t “feel” much muscular engagement right away. Keep practicing. This breath can be used for relaxation, building strength, digestion, and over all well-being. To facilitate more muscular connections you can place your hands on either side of your waist with your fingertips facing your belly button. Upon exhalation press the muscles of your abdomen together toward your belling button “closing the space” around your belly button. This helps the muscle fibers overlap and can be a great tool to help prevent diastasis recti. To facilitate digestion (hello, c-section mamas!) stand to the side of the bed leaning over with your forearms resting on the bed. Inhale let the belly/pelvic floor relax (belly will lower toward the floor), exhale and squeeze the pelvic floor and focus on lifting the belly up toward your back without changing the position of your spine.
Breath-work is the foundation to build your strength postpartum
After birth (but before you are “clear for exercise”) you will have to do hard things. You’ll have to get in and out of bed, sometimes quickly. You’ll have to get yourself, the baby, the car seat, the stroller, groceries, etc. in and out of the car. You’ll have to maybe climb stairs and even using the restroom can put strain on the muscles of the pelvic floor and abdomen. If you practice the breath in this way, you can call on that strengthen when you have to do hard things. Need to get the baby + car seat OUT of the middle of your SUV? Ok. Grab said car seat + baby with a solid/supportive stance. Inhale and relax. Exhale and engage the pelvic floor and abdominal wall and lift. Less strain on you and less room for injury.
Have the "all-clear" from your doctor to resume exercise?
Listen to your body. My suggestion would be seeing a pelvic floor specialist next. They will check to see if your PF muscles are contracting and if you are able to co-contract your pelvic floor and your Transverse Abdominus correctly. If you ever don’t feel ready or if you’re nervous about doing a specific movement…don’t. Healing is most important so you can be your best for yourself and your new baby. Work with a trainer (coach or teacher) that is knowledgeable in postpartum fitness specifically. Returning to exercise should still feel like you are working to heal your body. Diastasis Recti and pelvic floor dysfunction are common, but not normal—they are issues that need to be addressed with professionals that can give you information and exercises for rehabilitation.
AUTHOR: Brittany Taylor has a boundless passion for Pilates. After trying multiple exercise modalities and being an athlete and dancer since youth, she found that Pilates was the only thing she could stick with. Brittany specializes in Prenatal and Postpartum Pilates & Fitness and has extensive training from the brilliant Lanette Wenineger and the staff at Studio Flo Pilates, San Diego and works mostly with expecting and new Mamas. Her home studio is located in North Idaho and Brittany is available for virtual consults as well as private sessions. Positions and instructions for focused breathing can be found on her website: www.rootspilates.com.